How Much to Help with Homework?

Laura Markham's picture

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So you've done what all the teachers advise and set up a regular place and time for your child to do his homework every night. So how come he's pestering you for help every minute? Isn't he supposed to do it himself?

Of course he is, and of course you shouldn't do his homework for him. It's totally appropriate for you to help him to understand the task at hand, and to work with her so that she can figure out how to solve the problem. If she has difficulty in understanding the material, be sure to let the teacher know what you're seeing.

But what if he is capable of the work, but still seems to need a lot of attention to get it done? Simply put, there is a wide range of how independent kids in the early grades are in doing their homework. It is not at all unusual for second graders, for instance, to need parents to provide a lot of hand-holding and structure.

I always advise parents to sit near their children during homework time, doing paperwork of their own, so their presence is emotionally reassuring and they set an example of concentration. If you need to tend to other children or make dinner, it is best to set up homework time at the kitchen table near you. No table in the kitchen? Do you have room for a small desk? A folding card table?

Your child may well need your help to begin, to stay focused, to understand the directions, to organize the work, etc. Many kids need fairly constant interaction with parents while they complete their homework, not to "do" it, but to answer questions.

Some kids seem to need their parents to "embrace" them verbally as they work just to sustain them while they do these new tasks. For some kids, this is a reassurance that even while they become so independent -- reading and writing -- they are still mom's little girl. For others, our voice gives them an anchor while they venture into a demanding new realms.

Regardless, these are all appropriate ways for parents to support kids in doing their homework. With your help in developing good habits now, your child will be completely responsible for his own homework within a few years. Good thing, too. That math gets harder and harder to understand!

Dr. Laura Markham